Browns embrace rare MNF date with St. Louis

Monday, December 8, 2003

CLEVELAND -- All Earl Little needed was a toupee, blazer and microphone.

"This is Howard Cosell," the Browns safety said, mimicking the late legendary TV sportscaster, whose distinctive voice and signature opening line welcomed the nation to "Monday Night Football" telecasts during the 1970s.

In anticipation of their first regular-season Monday night appearance since returning to the league in 1999, many of Cleveland's players spent the past week reminiscing about nights they spent watching classic games.

Tonight, they hope to play in one.

The Browns (4-8), trying to salvage pride in a season gone wrong, will host the Rams (9-3). It will be Cleveland's first "MNF" appearance since Nov. 13, 1995, and its 25th since hosting the inaugural Monday night game on Sept. 21, 1970, when the Browns beat the New York Jets 31-21.

Before losing five of their last six games, the Browns pointed to the matchup with one of the NFC's elite teams as an opportunity to show the rest of the NFL that they are a team to be taken seriously.

They still see it that way, despite not having a realistic shot at making the playoffs.

"We don't get much national exposure, but we've got a lot of great players on this team," said Little, who leads the Browns with four interceptions. "This season hasn't gone like we expected. But we'll be on the big stage, so we're going to go out and put on a good show because we know the whole world will be watching."

At least for a half.

After the way the Browns folded last week in a 34-7 drubbing at Seattle, it would be hard to imagine them giving the powerful Rams much of a tussle. However, Cleveland has played well when it was least expected.

The Browns will have their hands full trying to contain St. Louis' high-octane offense led by quarterback Marc Bulger, running back Marshall Faulk and wide receiver Torry Holt.

Holt leads the league with 92 catches and 1,387 receiving yards. He's on pace to break Jerry Rice's league mark of 1,848 yards in a season (1995).

"I love Monday night," Holt said. "It's the greatest stage. Everybody in the country is watching."

Earlier last week, coach Butch Davis raised some eyebrows when he proclaimed the Browns were ahead of schedule "in some respects" in his third season rebuilding Cleveland.

Davis clarified those remarks a few days later, possibly to soothe the agitated Browns fans who flooded radio call-in shows.

"Let me make this completely clear," Davis said. "By no stretch of the imagination are we satisfied being 4-8. There were a lot of higher expectations of this team going into training camp. We don't want the wheels to come off in the last four weeks. We want to finish these last four games as positively as possible, and what better place to do it than on Monday Night Football."

The Rams, meanwhile, would lock up a playoff berth with a win.

"We're fortunate enough to be in a position where we don't have to worry about what other people do," lineman Tyoka Jackson said. "Winning puts you where you want to be.

"Just win and everything else will take care of itself."

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